Book Review of the Month: What Good is God? Philip Yancey
Although the news and our thoughts have moved away from the shooting in Colorado and onto things like the Olympics, it doesn't mean that the story has really ended. While we cheer and honor Olympians, there are still those trying to figure out and process what exactly happened that fateful night.
Starting this month, I'm going to add a book review and a movie review of the month. It won't necessarily be the latest book or movie, but more relevant to what is going on. I believe that artists are working as our "prophets" these days. Sometimes looking back helps us to look forward. This month we will look at a book called What Good is God by Philip Yancey.
If there was one man that would seem sympathetic to the idea of struggle, it would probably be Philip Yancey. His tone of writing is gentle and empathetic. His background is journalism, so he is not one to take sides, but approaches with a listening ear. But he has a way to reach and grip what is truly going on in the heart. I would picture him as a person to be observant, as most writers are. But he is safe. He probably knows some deep secrets about people.
Yancey is probably best known for books called The Jesus I Never Knew and What is So Amazing About Grace? He is a New York Times Bestseller.
The premise of the book What Good is God? is based on a question he was asked most often asked during tours. It seemed whenever there was tragedy, it was a question based on his credentials, that he would have some knowledge of. Rather than respond in a point by point to a skeptic, he actually went out and searched. Yancey investigated how a faith that matters would work in the face of adversity.
The book is divided in 10 parts with two different sections. The first part starts with the premise of why he is there and his experience. The second is based on a talk he was asked to give in that area. He tours places in America like Virginia Tech (after the shooting on the campus of 2007), Chicago, Memphis, his former Bible College, and Green Lake Wisconsin. He also goes into places like Cambridge, where C.S. Lewis was from; China, South Africa, the Middle East, and ends in Mumbai during a terrorist attack.
Yancey really lets you in on the experience he was feeling as he enters into the areas. We meet people that he is deeply impacted by, real people who were there in the time of the tragedy. People like Kacey Ruggesberger a survivor of the Columbine tragedy who was helping students in Virginia Tech. Pastors in China and the Middle East. Prostitutes in Green Lake. These perspectives really help in giving the talks. It shows that he is not being preachy, but understanding.
Yancey's approach to the question is interesting. There are places he gives the church in America a kind rebuke of their approach to this earth. He includes himself, recounting his "bubble days" in Bible College and how the "good world outside" changed his misconceptions of God. While not denouncing his time in Bible College, he writes how most "worldly" students were protesting Vietnam, the students in His College were debating infant baptism, hyperCalvinism and infant Baptism. I think that's a trend we still can see today. At times while we have done some good work in terms of homelessness and we focus on mission, we still seem to miss bigger issues. I still have yet to hear a church talk about child abuse for example
He also talks about how the church can learn from Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps. He brings up how AA is a community that holds people accountable, and can see through denial. It's a place where people can be real and vulnerable, not a place where people need to have it together. Depending on the community, I think this is generally getting better
But perhaps the most important question Yancey asks is not Why, but Who? Although he doesn't approach the question of why bad things happen, he shows how people with simple faith in community can make an impact representing the heart of God. Yancey discusses through the book about his own accident that doctors were concerned would lead to death, but thankfully survivied.And that impact has more of a statement in the actual question than an exact scientific answer.
If you are looking for a counter point to a skeptic’s claim of God, then this will not be the book for you. Yancey is not to distance himself from disappointment with God, but to understand it.And although he is a "Christian" writer, I would argue that it's not an exclusive book for Christians. As he states it is not only those who belong to a religion that acknowledges God. Yancey encourages to look at a deeper faith, not one that gives clichés, but one that seeks God. From there, that is where inner healing comes.
That might be the best place to start